Tuesday, February 17, 2009



By Raenette Taljaard

Feb 17, 2009

Legislators seem more concerned with wrecking the institutions meant to protect us from greed

THE most recent decisions made by the third democratic parliament — the dissolution of the Scorpions and the axing of former National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli, and the house’s role in both messy matters — have finally sealed its reputation as a rubber-stamp institution.

Certainly, the Pikoli farce in a special parliamentary committee — and in subsequent fractured debate in the National Assembly — seems set for future court action and judicial review as Pikoli seeks to protect prosecution policy in what must seem a very lonely battle.

Both rubber-stamp moments mark a low point in morality and ethics in the country’s hallowed halls of power.

As cases of corruption, fraud and/or general misconduct — including recent revelations about ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus — mount seemingly daily, our legislators seem more concerned with wrecking the very institutions meant to protect us against greed and pursuit of wealth through office.

Sadly, the decisions being rubber-stamped are not only executive decisions but decisions made in Luthuli House, finally erasing the distinction between party and state.

Perhaps it is time for the black rod to be replaced with a rubber stamp.

As voters approach the polls this year, it is worth their while to reflect on this third parliament’s sad, tarnished legacy. It is worth their while to recall how alleged Travelgate fraudster and Safety and Security Portfolio Committee Chair Maggie Sotyu declared the Scorpions dead long before a legislative word had formally reached her committee and long before any public submission had even been drafted, let alone received.

It is worthwhile to recall the words of Justice Committee Chair Yunus Carrim that voters could effectively express a view on the ANC’s handling of the Scorpions by “vetoing” the Bill through desertion of the party at the polls, an invitation that must be reviewed seriously as voters revisit the rubber-stamp house’s legacy.

It is worth recalling that the ANC’s decision-making structures had already decided to support President Kgalema Motlanthe’s decision to fire NPA boss Vusi Pikoli long before a special parliamentary committee had deliberated one word of the decision or heard from Pikoli himself.

It is worth recalling the farce in last week’s committee meeting when MPs were confronted with a ready-made report, complete with findings, before any real discussions had taken place.

The second democratic parliament started the legislative slide-away when the executive leaned heavily on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts during the arms-deal investigation. It can therefore come as little surprise that this slide has consistently continued.

It is time for voters to express their verdict on this matter and to ensure that, irrespective of who they vote for, they collectively force their politicians — through the electoral outcome at the ballot box — to work together in some new configuration of power to bring about a better system in all our interest.

We need a better electoral system with a greater balance of power — a key plank of various party manifestos.

We must have a better system of internal democracy within the various political parties that leaves some room for the individual conscience of members of parliament. We need a system in which the legislature actually ensures that public participation is not paid lip-service, observed only in breach of constitutional commitment.

We need a system that takes the advice and proposals of the independent panel on parliament seriously and implements them forthwith. One that does not leave them to gather dust just as a new administration completely re-arranges cabinet structures and the entire edifice of governance; a time in which getting to grips with oversight is more, not less, important.

We can but all hope as South Africans that the advent of the fourth democratic parliament will herald a new nature of public representative and a new ethos in which the house recovers a small patch of its Travelgate-tarnished reputation and erases the newly-minted rubber-stamp hallmark from its stationery.